Duluth, MN Boot & Shoe Company Fire, Dec 1899

Fire and Loss of Life in Duluth.

DULUTH, Dec. 17. - Fire this morning destroyed the factory of the Duluth Boot and Shoe Company. One of the firemen, H. McVitte, was killed by falling walls, and John Twaddle and Capt. John Welsh were injured seriously. Loss on stock and building, $130,000; insurance, $90,000.

The New York Times, New York, NY 18 Dec 1899



Fire Destroys Duluth Shoe Company's Factory.



Crowds of People Go to See the Ruins Caused By the Fire Yesterday Morning - Third Man That Goes Under Falling Wall, Captain Welsh, Only Slightly Injured on Legs.

Yesterday morning and afternoon thousands visited the scene of the fire that early yesterday morning destroyed the building and stock of the Duluth Shoe company at the foot of Sixth Avenue West, and in which a fireman was killed and two injured. Only part of the bare walls stand in show that on Saturday there was an active hive of industry there. Sixth Avenue West was black with the crowds that passed in and from the scene of the fire and the police had to construct a temporary fence across the roadway for the front wall of the ruins seemed ready to fall at any moment. It leaned out about 18 inches and had no support.

The fire department kept fighting the fire until a late hour yesterday morning and yesterday afternoon the tug Superior was throwing a stream on the smoldering heaps inside the walls.

Speaking of the killing of William McVette and the injuring of Lieutenant John Twaddle and Captain John Welsh by the falling of the south wall of the building, Fire Chief Black said yesterday:

"I do not blame anybody for the accident to the men. It was a most unfortunate affair and nobody regrets it more than I do. The building was poorly constructed or the wall would never have come down as it did. The men of No. 2, to which the dead man and the injured ones belong, laid their hose around the building to get to the back. They saw it was no use there so they started to bring the hose around to the front to play on the fire there. While in the act of doing this the wall fell. Captain Walsh was in close to the wall and escaped severe injury. Lieutenant Twaddle was out a little further and was struck by part of the wall and was badly injured. McVitte was the farthest out and therefore got the full benefit of the fall, and he was probably instantly killed. Such an accident could not be foreseen and nobody can be blamed for it. Assistant Chief Boynton was in command of that part but cannot be blamed, for any other assistant chief or I would have done the same in the same place."

There were three other men in the company whose members were caught. The other three were in the shower of bricks, too, but miraculously escaped uninjured. They were Fred Spetz, James Mahan and George Scarlett.

The total financial loss fotts up to about $125,000, but is well covered with insurance. The loss on the building, which was owned by the Eastern Minnesota road, was $40,000, the building being totally destroyed. The insurance on it is $20,000. The loss to the stock, including a number of consignments, amounts to about $85,000 and is insured for about $63,000. The machinery is well covered by insurance and so are the office fixtures.

Luther Mendenhall, secretary of the Duluth Shoe company, said last night:

"The company will take immediate steps to resume business at as early a date as possible. The company has suffered some loss of course but a very slight one and the fire, from a business point of view, while unfortunate, can be regarded more as a clean up than as a loss. We will be able to start on an entirely new basis to attend to our contracts."

The company had been looking for a new location for some time with a view to moving out of the building it occupied as soon as the lease expired. The lease had something over a year to run, but the company was actified when the Hill interests acquired the property that the lease would not be renewed. As to where the company will be likely to establish itself could not be learned yesterday for the reason that there were only two of the company's officers in the city, Luther Mendenhall and Joseph Sellwood. Robert Fitzgerald, president of the company, and G. G. Hartley, another officer of the company, are out of the city. An attempt will be made to get them to return quickly and get matters started again. Mr. Fitzgerald is somewhere in Montana, but the other officers of the company have been unable to get a dispatch to him, as it is not known just where he is. It is expected, however, that orders will be filled with but little delay. The company will have office room, temporarily, in room No. 467 First National bank building.

Stane Kozlosky, who was watchman at the building at the time the fire broke out says that it started first under the dock at the northwest corner of the building, directly under the boiler room. In telling about it he said:

"I was going my rounds and was up on the third floor when I smelled smoke. I ran down stairs and found the boiler room filled with smoke. The fire seemed to be underneath the floor. I then ran back up stairs to get a hand chemical and coming down, went around the back of the building to where the fire started. I found that in the short space of time I had taken to go up stairs for the chemical, the fire had gained tremendously so I ran for the fire alarm box which was right in front of the building. By the time I had sent in the alarm, the whole lower floor of the building was on fire and I could not get even my street clothes. I lost my clothes and watch."

Chief Black of the fire department said last night:

"If the watchman, instead of going after the hand chemical had pulled the box, we might have had a chance to check the flames but by the time we got there and got a stream of water on the fire, the building was doomed. We had great difficulty in getting a stream started for the hydrant at Railroad street under the viaduct was frozen. We had to thaw this out and finally got one stream going. When we cut holes in the ice in the slip and got our suction pipes down the water was too shallow and about all we got was mud. Under these conditions we had a hard time of it."

William McVitte, the fireman that was killed when the south wall of the building fell during the conflagration, was married, and leaves a wife and three children. McVitte was about 26 years of age and has been on the department only since Oct. 1. He has been living in Duluth about two years, coming here from Canada, where he was farming. He brought his wife and children to Duluth about six weeks ago. McVitte was born on the upper peninsula of Michigan and with his parents went to Canada, settling near Southampton, Ont., when he was 14 years old.

Chief Black, who is deeply grieved at the death of McVitte, said last night that a short time ago, one of the assistant chiefs asked McVitte when he was going to get his uniform. McVitte said that he would not get it for a while for he might resign from the department. The chief says that he has learned from a friend of McVitte's family that the reason for the contemplated resignation was that Mrs. McVitte was very anxious to have her husband quit the business, declaring that she had a presentiment that something would happen to him. She was so urgent that her husband, to end her anxiety, had almost determined to resign. But death claimed him too soon. The family lives on West Second street between Twenty-seventh and Twenty-eighth avenues. No funeral arrangements have yet been made and probably will not until the young man's parents have been heard from.

Lieutenant John Twaddle was cut badly about the head and the upper part of the body. His skull is indented and it is possible that his injuries may prove fatal but it is hoped that he will come out of the affair all right. Twaddle's brother, Arthur, was killed in a collision between a hook and ladder truck and a street car at Lake avenue and Superior street a year ago last September. Arthur Twaddle was a member of the hook and ladder truck.

Captain Walsh was hurt about the legs but was on duty yesterday.

The Duluth News Tribune, Duluth, MN 18 Dec 1899